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A world view of care for all


Surprised at what she saw in India, Beth Rowlands became a tireless campaigner for affordable healthcare for all

When Beth Rowlands thinks about her week-long trip to Liberia with Save the Children in December 2012, she thinks about Margaret.

Margaret, a midwife in Liberia, has to work six days a week without electricity or running water. As the only midwife on duty, she is often woken in the middle of the night to deliver a baby.

For Ms Rowlands, Margaret represents the hundreds of nurses in Liberia who do a great deal with very few resources. She represents a chance to make a difference.

Ms Rowlands, 34, who qualified as a nurse at Sheffield Hallam University in 2004, always wanted to take her skills abroad to help those who lack the benefits she enjoys as a UK nurse.

She moved to Hyderabad in India in 2010, where she saw a very different side to healthcare as a volunteer with a small healthcare charity, the Institute for Rural Health Studies. She was surprised by the number of preventable diseases and the poor provision of basic healthcare for many.

In 2012, Ms Rowlands volunteered as a health worker campaigner with Save the Children as part of their No Child Born to Die campaign. Along with 10 other UK health professionals, she campaigns for the rights of all children to receive adequate healthcare by professionals who have been trained and have the resources to provide that care.

“The big thing we are focusing on at the moment is universal health coverage, or the right of everyone in the world to have healthcare without going into debt,” she says.

Ms Rowlands says she wants to convey this mission to as many people as she can - including health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

While attending the World Health Assembly in Geneva last month, Ms Rowlands met with Mr Hunt to tell him about the work she and the other health campaigners have been doing.

“We are really passionate about improving inequalities in global health and I want him and the UK government to know that,” she says. “He was really interested in universal health coverage and said it was one of the things he was going to mention to the assembly that afternoon.”

Ms Rowlands says her own view of healthcare in the UK altered when she saw the conditions and minimum resources nurses such as Margaret work with every day.

“One thing that really came across to us were the many preventable diseases people are dying from,” she says. “I met so many people in India who had gone bankrupt taking out loans to cover illnesses that we would pay nothing to cover in the UK. I found it quite humbling to see how grateful they were for the care they received.”

Ms Rowlands and her fellow health worker campaigners want to challenge negative messages about international aid.

“There’s been quite a lot of negative attention given to the money the UK gives away in aid,” she says. “We are trying to talk about the successes and say that we support it and are pro-aid.”

Ms Rowlands sees the Global Forum on Human Resources for Health, which will be held in Recife in Brazil, as a chance for UK representatives to voice their opinion about improving global access to health workers. The conference will take place over four days in November.

“It presents a real opportunity for the UK to demonstrate international leadership and stand up for the importance of health workers, ensuring that political will translates into effective action,” says Ms Rowlands.

Since returning from the trip in December, Ms Rowlands and her fellow campaigners have focused on telling others about what they saw in Liberia. By giving talks locally, lobbying their MPs, writing letters and attending campaign events, they hope to improve conditions for health workers like Margaret and her patients.

Ms Rowlands says this kind of advocacy comes from her sense of duty and privilege as a UK nurse.

“I consider myself very lucky to benefit from the health services provided by the NHS and I’d like more people to have the same right to basic healthcare that I do,” she says.

Hilary Weaver


Readers' comments (11)

  • India has nuclear weapons and a space exploration program but says it cannot feed/care for its population ! - Have a think about before donating more money !

    Liberia is massively corrupt ! Want more "AID" money to disappear ?

    Providing "AID" to these counties rewards unethical behaviour and does nothing to improve ordinary people lives!

    STOP "AID" it buys guns and limousines not healthcare for children.

    If the bleeding heart brigade were to open their eyes and recognise reality change might occur -- throwing "AID" money at the problem maintains the status quo

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  • tinkerbell

    Well done Beth to you and your campaigners for going out and doing something. God speed your campaign. Well done is better than well said.

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  • Jenny Jones | 21-Jun-2013 6:20 am

    Well if you don't want to support a corrupt government, unethical behaviour, arms trading, limousines and nothing being done to improve ordinary lives, you had better stop paying your taxes, hadn't you? That would probably require you to spend time in jail as a prisoner of conscience. Otherwise, you are just a hypocrite.

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  • Ms Rowlands, congratulations on all of your efforts and hopefully you will bee able to continue to inspire those in the UK.

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  • should have read '...efforts and achievements...' above.

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  • Beth, don't be too polite to Mr Hunt.

    The Monterrey Concensus signed up to by so many nations (including the UK) in 2002 has never been honoured. The agreed amount of assistance in the form of aid has never been given. And yet, some seem to think that the UK is being bled dry in aid contributions.

    Jenny Jones | 21-Jun-2013 6:20 am

    Overly simplistic, jingoistic rants are easy when written in ignorance. If you think for one minute that any government of this country isn't getting more out of the countries it patronises (with insufficient handouts), then you are even dafter than you already sound.

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  • Anonymous | 22-Jun-2013 0:29 am

    I will listen to your ill-informed ranting when you tell us that you, like me, have lived and worked in Africa/India.

    I can tell you exactly where medication/medical supplies provided "free" are sold at prices the locals cannot afford.

    It must be so good to feel you are making the World a "better" but in reality you are deluding yourself

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  • jenny jones

    do you derive satisfaction from your regular imperious put downs in your comments on all manner of different topics?

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  • Jenny Jones | 22-Jun-2013 7:27 am

    I'm not interested in whether or not you listen to me. I have worked for years in several countries in Africa and South America. I doubt that you have.

    When you are well fed, comfortable, safe and able to access to excellent healthcare, it is easy to step on the disenfranchised to protect your own interests, because the world isn't perfect. I've met your type before. So try not to be so disingenuous and at least be honest about your own ill informed excuses for looking after number one. That's all it is.

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  • The debate about aid has been dumbed down. On one hand we have (almost exclusively western-based) economists arguing that aid has achieved little because it ends up exclusively in the hands of corrupt governments and criminals. One the other hand we have oversimplified propaganda, the aim of which is to raise money using words and terms like “simple”, “easily preventable diseases”, “transform”, “save lives” or anything which suggests that aid is cheap or primarily about supplying some bit of technology. Installing a borehole to provide a clean source of water is easy, the tricky bit is to ensure it is maintained. There is an assumption that people can’t deal with the complexity. The most effective aid in the long run is about building up institutions that ensure accountability mechanisms whereby effective services and development are delivered.
    One of the biggest challenges in much of rural Africa is behavioural change, and that is why aid workers talk all the time about sensitisation. Take health: 70% of the disease burden is preventable at household level with basic hygiene measures such as handwashing, pit latrines and separating animal and human living quarters. But it's difficult to get the message through; we struggle with behaviour change in the UK on an issue like child obesity despite having a largely literate population, mass communications and a functioning health and education system, so it is hardly surprising that it is so hard to achieve in rural Africa. How do you inculcate a belief that something can be improved in a people whose sense of possibility is crippled by the sheer struggle for daily survival?
    Explaining and justifying aid is a really tough call, and over the next few years as unemployment in the west rises, it is ¬going to get very hard to counter the case that charity should just stay at home. However, if you see a stray child in the road in danger of oncoming traffic no one doubts that the moral action is to step in. So why are the millions of children in Africa and elsewhere any different? Some aid goes astray, and some aid is not very effective. So what, if the cost to you has been so little – only the price of a meal in a restaurant or a new pair of shoes? Such is the affluence of the west, arguments about the cost of aid are irrelevant – we can afford it. Anyone who can afford to buy a bottled or canned drink where there is clean tap water available has money they do not need.
    I agree with Anonymous | 21-Jun-2013 10:17 pm. If anyone doesn’t want to support corruption, misappropriation of funds, nuclear weapons, etc , etc., then not only should they stop paying taxes, but they would be advised not to buy......well just about anything from anywhere in this country or use any service. Multinationals and governance of the west is a whole other can of worms.
    Just in case my credentials for having an opinion are questioned. I spent several years working in Africa as a nurse doing direct development work. Every two years, I go back, for a month, to the project on which I worked and am in very regular contact in between. Never been a bleeding heart. Never will be.

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